Modern-Day Abolitionist U-M Law professor fights human trafficking

By Sheila Pursglove Legal News Human trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery, sounds like something from the Third World or the pages of history, but the industry is currently thriving in Michigan and elsewhere across the U.S., as well as around the world. Elizabeth Campbell, a clinical assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, is one of those fighting on the front lines, along with her colleagues in the U-M Human Trafficking Clinic. Law students at the Clinic launched in 2009 and the first clinical law program solely dedicated to the issue of human trafficking have the opportunity to work on domestic and international issues and cases, and gain direct, daily interaction with clients. "They gain real world experiences with interviewing, fact investigation, negotiation, legal writing and, most importantly, advocacy for a client with a variety of systems," Campbell notes. "All of our cases are very compelling human stories involving clients who are immensely strong and capable. The most interesting cases, legally speaking, usually result from the fact that the federal law on human trafficking is still so young and thus malleable." A member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Taskforce, Campbell assisted in describing recent state legislation; and also oversees the U-M Human Trafficking Legal Project, the first publicly available database of human trafficking cases within the United States. Launched in February 2011, the goal of HTLP is to help strengthen anti-trafficking laws in the United States and to support government officials, law enforcement, and practitioners working on behalf of victims. Reading the sordid details requires a strong stomach: pornography, child prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labor in terrible conditions, debt bondage the list seems endless. Campbell came to this field after earning her undergrad degree from U-M in English Language and Literature, and Women's Studies, when she started volunteering to help in domestic violence issues. "I started volunteering because rather than just have a textbook understanding of violence against women I wanted to see how it impacted women in the real world," she says. "I found the work with clients enormously enriching but found that the DV field was in a time of transition and I may be better suited to have a law degree." During three years as an advocate at a local domestic violence and sexual assault center, she was frustrated with her inability to assist clients in overcoming all the obstacles. "I knew law would be limited in that capacity as well, but thought it was an important tool to have in my tool box if I hoped to work with survivors of violence," she says. Heading to Michigan Law, she intended to go into DV work but after stumbling upon human trafficking, was immediately intrigued. "It shared many similarities with DV work, but it was a movement in its infancy and I was excited at the prospect of being involved in something at the ground floor," she says. During law school, she spent nine months as a project coordinator for the Family Law Project, a division of Legal Services of South Central Michigan, assisting low income survivors of domestic violence in divorce, custody and personal protection matters, interviewing clients, drafting pleadings and appearing in court. She also organized more than 75 student volunteers into weekly projects. Campbell spent three months in New Zealand as a U-M Fellow with the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, where she clerked for the refugee appellate court. "It was really special to see how a different system works to better understand both the positives and negatives of our system," she says. In her leisure time, she and her husband traveled the south island extensively, enjoying activities such as paragliding, hiking, boating through Milford Sound, running from wild pigs and kayaking in the Tasman Sea. Campbell, who occasionally does pro bono immigration cases for low-income newlyweds where one is not a U.S. citizen, is co-author with Rachel Settlage, a professor at Wayne Law, and Veronica Thronson, a professor at MSU College of Law, of "Immigration Relief for Undocumented Victims of Crime," coming soon from the American Bar Association. Campbell is native of Flint a background that hugely shaped her desire to work with disenfranchised communities, she notes. She and her husband Ryan Bates, executive director of Michigan United, now make their home in Ann Arbor, where she is an avid gardener and enjoys good food with friends. Published: Thu, Jul 24, 2014